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Chinese Food Ingredients in Culinary Guangzhou


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Great Wall of China
Modern Beijing
Terracotta Warriors
Yangshuo
Dali Yunnan
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Angkor Wat temples
Lake Baikal, Siberia
Sapa Valley, Vietnam
Kuching, Malaysia
Luang Prabang, Laos
Tana Toraja, Indonesia


View from the pagoda over Guangzhou
Guangzhou in south east China is the place to be to find every kind of Chinese food ingredients. Formerly known as Canton, it is world famous for its culinary tradition. It features the Qing Ping Market, traditionally the place where the, for western people less attractive Chinese food ingredients are traded. Snakes, scorpions, rats, cats and dogs are on display here, all for human consumption.

We pay a visit to Guangzhou in order to get a visa for Vietnam at the Vietnamese consulate here. Lying at the coast opposite to Hong Kong, this city has always been a little different from the rest of China. It is the capital of the Chinese province Guangdong (also called Canton in the past) that was added to the Chinese empire relatively late. People here talk a slightly different language, although the writing is the same. Because of its geographic location, there has been much contact with the European traders here, much to the dislikes of the Chinese empire. The lost opium war with England led to a concession area where the English and French could stay for their trade. Via these areas many Cantonese fled China and it is this group of people running most of the Chinese restaurants throughout the world.

Upon arrival at the new, large and modern west train station of Guangzhou we are a bit lost. The first signs are in English as well as Chinese, but after those you will have to remember the Chinese sign for subway in order to find it. Once found, it takes us in no time to the other side of the city, where we intend to stay on the island of Shamian Dao.

Shamian Dao

Shamian Dao is the place where the English and French were allowed to stay in order to trade with the Cantonese. The island is full of colonial buildings and is an quiet oasis in a hectic city. As a drawback, it attracts all of the tourists, resulting in a number of large luxurious hotels and restaurants. Fortunately, there is also a budget hotel, where we will stay.

After dropping off our luggage and a quick shower, we head for the Vietnamese consulate. A bus ride along the Pearl River brings us at the Luxurious Landmark hotel, where the consulate is supposed to be located. We search for the entrance only to find out we have to wait two hours for the office to open. But in the end, we succeed in requesting our visa, so we can pick it up after the weekend.

Qing Ping market

Guangzhou is famous for its kitchen, making the best dishes from the most unlikely of Chinese food ingredients. The place to buy those is at the Qing Ping market, where we have a look on Saturday.

Statue of rams, the official symbol of GuangzhouThe first set of market is filled with large bags of dried herbs, bugs, sea horses, turtle shields etcetera. But further on more and more living ingredients are on offer. There are big tubs full with living scorpions. Chinese men are sitting around them, picking the best ones from the tub with their chopsticks. It looks as if they would eat them directly, but they don’t.

Apart from the scorpions, there are a lot of turtles and crabs on sale, obviously for consumption. But later on, the market seems to change in a pet market. That is, we cannot imagine that the cats and dogs on display here are combed thoroughly to be ingredients for the fried rice. There are a lot of colorful fish on sale as well, in well decorated aquariums. We also see hamsters, rats, salamanders and frogs, but these look more like pets than food as well.

We return to the market on Monday, to see if we had picked the wrong day, or the wrong street. After a lot of searching, indeed we find some chickens, ducks, fish, snakes, and especially turtles, obviously to serve as Chinese food ingredients. Still, we think the market is changing. Possibly because they are forced to change it, possibly to serve the tourists, since they prefer to see animals as pets. We suspect the trade for living Chinese food ingredients continues elsewhere. In today’s China, trade is not limited to the Qing Ping market, as it was in the old days.

Good food?

You will probably think we did have some good meals in culinary Guangzhou. But as a matter of fact, we got a little disappointed from what we have tried. A summary:

  • At the street booths, people just point at the Chinese food ingredients they would like to eat. We tried the crispy looking yellow pieces of meat. But they appeared to be chicken feet . Not a success, but an experience for sure.
  • On Shamian Dao restaurants especially catered for tourists. But tournedos is not a Chinese speciality
  • In the city we see several restaurants with living dogs and cats on display. Pick one to be cooked for you. No thank you…
  • So we tried a real, more luxurious Chinese restaurants in the city. Here they have a large menu, in English. But as the dishes are served, they are also adjusted to the tourist taste. The Chinese don’t mix their meat with rice before they eat it, they only do that for us.
In conclusion, we didn’t get to enjoy the local specialties in Guangzhou. Luckily we did get to eat local food elsewhere in China. We even ate Cantonese elsewhere, since these are served everywhere in China.

Temples

On Saturday afternoon we visit a few Buddhist temple complexes, the Guangxiao Si and the Liurongsi Huata. Both are still in use (or in use again, during Mao’s cultural revolution every religion was prohibited) and a lot of Chinese are here performing their rituals. We see them kneel, pray, burn incense and offer fruit. And there is the occasional monk walking by.

At the second complex there’s a big pagoda we can climb. We have to stoop a lot but the view is worth it. We can the activity in the city, building more and more modern skyscrapers. We also see many poor, gray apartment buildings. This is what a typical Chinese city looks like nowadays.

The Park

On Sunday we pay a visit to the park. It is a big one, with artificial lakes, hills and waterfalls around a few monuments. It is crowded, probably because of the Sunday. It is difficult to make photos without a posing Chinese on it. It takes most of the day to walk in the park and to visit the ugly monument of San Yut Sen, the first president of the republic of China, and one 5 rams, the symbol of the city of Guangzhou.

On Monday it is time to pick up our visa at the Vietnamese consulate and leave for Guilin. At least, that’s what we thought. We arrive at the consulate an hour early, but our passports are put on a pile. We have no clue what needs to be done with it, but there is little action. Finally, a man starts investigating the pile, but he is not the only one who needs to paste, stamp and sign. In the end, it takes two hours before we get our passports back. We need to hurry and take a taxi to the train station. Luckily, Guangzhou has several modern flyovers, otherwise we would have probably missed the train.

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